Criticism of Israel is not automatically antisemitism

Articles like this usually aren’t worth writing about, much less defending. So I’m not going to do either. But it is important to promote free and open debate, which is exactly the opposite of what this person is doing.

All too often, especially in the United States, criticism of the Israeli government is smeared as antisemitism in order to immediately end any debate over controversial policies and actions by that government. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been criticized especially for its aggressive retaliatory attacks against rocket attacks by Hamas from within Gaza, killing dozens of Palestinian civilians per strike. Israel is a leading beneficiary of American foreign aid and routinely buys many of the most advanced weapons and technology in the world, only to turn around and use it in Gaza. Not to mention the always-expanding settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world — including the United States — consider illegal.

All of these things are controversial and discussing them openly is necessary and critical to resolving these issues, and most of those which I listed above have a direct impact on United States national security interests in the Middle East.

Typically, criticism like that is what’s smeared as antisemitic in order to sweep those controversial issues under the rug, but that doesn’t mean that less intellectual and evidenced-based complaints and issue advocacy don’t have the same right to be heard and discussed in public. It is an insanely bad idea to abuse and twist inflammatory terms normally used to describe utterly indefensible statements and behavior, to shut down legitimate debate just because one disagrees with the criticism they are hearing.

Words like terrorism are quickly losing their meaning and usefulness as governments and people use them to describe behavior they don’t like, while doing many of those same things themselves and refusing to be labeled as they would label others. The United States used the terrorism label and virtually nothing else to justify the assassination of one of its own citizens and nobody dare argue against it, precisely because like antisemite, “terrorist” is one of those indefensible labels that makes all discussion moot, and renders anyone who doesn’t obey social orthodoxy a passive supporter of that terrible and evil thing, or even guilty of it themselves.

That is bad in two really big ways.

First, it silences legitimate and necessary debate over government actions when increasingly corrupt elections and ineffectual campaign finance systems make direct-elections increasingly pointless at holding government accountable.

Second, it cheapens the terms so much that they become useless when describing real acts of terrorism or bigoted behavior. The standards used here would place the entire Democratic and Republican parties, and most other Americans who aren’t overtly political, firmly in the anti-American camp merely for complaining that their national government is corrupt, and often vicious and uncaring towards the lives of civilians overseas, for pointing out that the current administration has been expanding America’s drone war to kill alleged terrorists while slaughtering an increasing number of civilians.

What is fact and what is true is for the public to decide while it debates all of these issues, and if any criticism of Israel (or the United States) is dishonest, such a fact will be quickly obvious to everyone. Not only is such abuse of these terms unnecessary, it ends up doing far more harm than good by smearing legitimate and beneficial debate while giving actual bigots and terrorists a get-out-of-jail-free card.

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It’s beyond ironic, given what I’ve written about above, that the person crying “antisemite! antisemite!” also has this quote at the top of their column: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

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